If an alien came down to Earth at Christmas time, what would they think of our festive traditions? Would they gawp perplexed at carol singers and wonder why we create people out of snow?
As the world gets more mesmerised by the potential of space, this thought is at the centre of John Lewis & Partners' Christmas campaign, “Unexpected guest”, which tells the tale of an unlikely friendship between a young boy called Nathan and space traveller Skye.
The film opens as Nathan buses home from school. As he peers out of the window, he spots something come careering down from the sky. Curiosity getting the better of him, he rushes towards the crash site in his local forest, where smouldering wood points to something up, otherworldly perhaps.
He finally comes across a crashed spaceship, bumping into the space traveller. The ice between the two melts as Nathan taps his Christmas jumper and the star on it twinkles, just like Skye's space outfit.
The two begin an unusual friendship, where Nathan introduces Skye to festive traditions that are alien to her. Together, they decorate a forest tree with fairy lights, watch Christmas films and throw snowballs. Nathan even encourages her to try her first mince pie, which she gobbles up whole, foil casing still attached.
Throughout their budding friendship, the pair know that once Skye fixes her spaceship, it must come to an end. Before she heads off to her home planet, Nathan gives her his Christmas jumper and Skye pecks him on the cheek – a custom she has learnt from her time on Earth.
Through their shared moments, the viewer sees the magic of Christmas through the eyes of someone who has never experienced it before.
Chosen as a celestial complement to the ad, the soundtrack is a cover of Phil Oakey and Giorgio Moroder’s Together in Electric Dreams, sung by LolaYoung, a 20-year-old singer-songwriter from south London.
Renowned for directing Apple’s “Underdogs” and Huggie’s “Welcome to the world baby”, John Lewis enlisted Smuggler director Mark Molloy to lend his expertise on its Christmas ad.
“When I first started directing, I used to look at John Lewis Christmas ads,” he said of the gig. “That was the pinnacle of commercial directing. When the script came in, I was like 'Please be a good one'… I loved it instantly.”
Created in partnership with John Lewis' long-term ad agency, Adam & Eve/DDB, this year's Christmas ad responds to the customer insight that people want joy this year, after a disappointing festive season in 2020. It also arrives a week earlier than usual, as research shows people are eager for Christmas to begin.
“Joy and escapism came out as it as keywords,” Claire Pointon, the customer director, said about the insight behind John Lewis' Christmas ad this year.
“We wanted to get across that Christmas is not just about gifting. There are many moments that make up Christmas – whether that is decorating the tree or hosting your family and friends. There are many moments that we heard our customers really missed last year.”
She added that last year the brand had to strike the right tone in terms of the mood of the nation, which is why it focused on kindness with "Give a little love".
As is the custom, John Lewis is showing the ad to its 3.7 million My John Lewis members first, via exclusive email access at 6.30am, before it launches on its website and social media channels at 8am.
For the past two years, Waitrose & Partners and John Lewis & Partners have joined forces for their Christmas ads, but this year, the two have gone their separate ways.
“We've done it for the last two years. We thought about it long and hard, considering how our brands talk to our customers. What are we trying to communicate?” Pointon said.
“Although it worked well for the last two years, we actually want to make sure brands have real clarity of thought around them. There are only two minutes to communicate both what Waitrose wants to be famous for in terms of amazing tasting food and ourselves around really moments that matter around Christmas. It's quite tricky to do that.”